March 6, 2016
Xin chào quý vị và các bạn. It is wonderful to be at Vietnam National University today. I would like to thank President Phùng Xuân Nhạ and all VNU students and faculty for your gracious hospitality. I would also like to thank Vice President Đức, Rector Hòa and Vice Rector Minh.
You know, before entering the auditorium – it’s raining a little bit outside — I asked Madam Nguyễn Thị Anh Thu to take me to the monument at VNU’s entrance. We read the words of Ho Chi Minh, who encouraged Vietnam to stay true to its long history of respect for education.
Hồ Chí Minh nói, “Non song Việt Nam có trở nên vẻ vang hay không, dân tộc Việt Nam có được sánh vai các cường quốc năm châu hay không, chính là nhờ một phần lớn ở công lao học tập của các cháu.” [Applause]
Meaning, if the country of Vietnam is to become glorious, the people of Vietnam must stand shoulder to shoulder with powerful nations throughout the five continents, and that depends in a big part on your study efforts. He knew that international integration and lasting partnerships are critical to Vietnam’s success.
And I think it is fitting that I speak about the future of U.S.-Vietnam relations at VNU, because you know that education and also diplomacy are about learning from each other.
Education and diplomacy means understanding each other to better achieve common interests.
They mean empowering each other with knowledge.
They mean helping each other reach our fullest potential.
They mean promoting a shared vision for a more just and peaceful world.
2015 marks the 20th anniversary of the normalization of relations between the United States and Vietnam. And today, I would like to speak with you about three aspects of this milestone and what this milestone signifies about the future of our relationship.
First, I would like to highlight how the Comprehensive Partnership shows how far we have come in only 20 years.
Second, I want to discuss the current state of affairs between our two nations.
Third, and, perhaps most important, especially for those of you who are younger than I am, I would like to identify where I think this relationship can go in the next 20 years and beyond.
So, how far have we come in the 20 years since normalization? In 2013, President Sang and President Obama created a Comprehensive Partnership which identified a broad and strategic list of areas where we should cooperate and work together.
Your President and mine charted a new course for us in the areas of diplomacy, economics and trade, security, science and technology, education, environment, health, and people-to-people cooperation.
Your nation and mine also highlighted ways to continue working together on war legacy issues and on human rights.
Did anyone think such a partnership was possible back in the mid-90s?
I was here then and I can tell you that, although we all hoped for the best, no one predicted that we would come so far so fast.
Secretary Kerry said it best when he was in Vietnam in 2013. He said: “no two countries have worked harder, done more, and done better to try to bring themselves together and change history and change the future.”
So, the Comprehensive Partnership tells us that much has been achieved and it gives us a roadmap on the way forward.
Now, where are we today? What is the current state of affairs?
In the area of political and diplomatic cooperation, we see an encouraging tempo of high level visits between our two countries. These visits have symbolic value and they advance the Comprehensive Partnership.
We have seen high-level visits that include Members of Congress, Deputy Prime Ministers, high-ranking diplomats and many others. Indeed, your Minister of Public Security will soon visit the United States and meet with senior U.S. leaders about a wide range of issues, including human rights.
And, we are pleased that Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong will visit the United States later this year at our invitation. We are confident his visit will help move the Comprehensive Partnership forward. And, we expect that the pace of high-level U.S. visitors to Vietnam continues as well, as these visits are also a way to keep an open and frank dialogue about all the issues we face.
The state of play in the political and diplomatic arenas is encouraging on many levels. In January, your Vice Foreign Minister Ha Kim Ngoc opened a conference in Hanoi marking the 20th anniversary. He urged us – and this is very significant — to move beyond bilateral cooperation to regional and global collaboration, especially in the fields of non-proliferation, climate, and water, food and energy security. He is right.
Our Comprehensive Partnership is designed to contribute to peace, stability, cooperation, and prosperity in each country in the region, and in the world. And, the recent history of U.S. partnerships with countries like India and Indonesia teach us that expanding past bilateral cooperation to broader cooperation is necessary and healthy.
Indeed, U.S.-Vietnam cooperation on regional and global issues holds great potential for our bilateral relationship and more broadly. We should listen to your Vice Foreign Minister and continue pushing forward in these areas.
The Vice Minister also urged the United States and Vietnam to work toward stable international systems and international laws.
Like Vietnam, the United States wants peace and stability in the region, and in the South China Sea, Bien Dong, in particular. As Secretary Kerry said at the ASEAN Regional Forum, we “care deeply about the way countries behave in pursuing their claims. Intimidation, coercion, or use of force by any one of the claimants … [is] unacceptable.” We believe territorial disputes must be dealt with peacefully, diplomatically and in accordance with international law. We call for the exercise of self-restraint by all claimants – particularly in terms of large-scale reclamation activities to transform rocks and shoals into outposts that could easily be militarized. We support efforts by ASEAN and China towards an early conclusion of a meaningful Code of Conduct in the South China Sea through which half of the world’s sea cargo flows.
Speaking of cargo, let’s talk for a moment about our trade and economic ties. The United States and Vietnam do about $35 billion dollars in trade annually. And that is more than a seven fold increase in the last 20 years.
And, it’s going to keep going up. The Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP is one of President Obama’s top priorities. Once TPP is concluded, its members will make up 40% of the global economy.
TPP is an enormous opportunity for Vietnam. It represents the next logical step in Vietnam’s integration into the global economy. This high-standard trade agreement will mean exciting opportunities for Vietnam’s businesses and entrepreneurs, because it opens new trade and investment opportunities as barriers fall.
In addition to trade, we know the importance of economic reform and inclusion. USAID’s Governance for Inclusive Growth program helps Vietnam advance an economic reform agenda that will benefit business, investors, regional trade prospects – and, most of all, Vietnam’s people.
And, I’m proud to say that we promote many programs to boost economic empowerment of women and ethnic minorities because everyone should get a chance at economic prosperity.
I would like to say a few words about our science and technology cooperation, as it is a wonderful example of how we work together.
A crowning achievement was the conclusion of a 123 agreement on civil-nuclear energy. This agreement sets the stage for Vietnam to expand its sources of energy and for closer nuclear cooperation for decades to come.
At the same time, we celebrate a growing number of collaborative scientific activities supported by the PEER program.
Our partnership on climate change adaption and mitigation is also deepening. USAID’s Forests and Deltas program helps Vietnam adapt to rising sea levels and adopt more sustainable land use practices. And we have offered to assist Vietnam join the global fight against climate change through its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution; that is, what it does to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
We are excited about Vietnam’s recent proposed collaboration with us on food security and nutrition, especially in the Mekong Delta.
Now, giving these remarks at VNU is a great honor. It also means I don’t have to convince you that education cooperation is important in our relationship.
There is no greater symbol of how far we have come and how far we can go than the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program (FETP). Fulbright just celebrated its 20th year transforming the way economics and public policy are taught in Vietnam.
Fulbright’s 1100 graduates serve in important roles at all levels and in all sectors in the big cities and in the provinces. The Fulbright Program will soon transition to a full-fledged institution known as Fulbright University Vietnam (FUV).
Fulbright University will be Vietnam’s first private, not for profit university in Vietnam, creating a transparently run, academic meritocracy and a platform for thoughtful policy recommendations.
We have also promoted multiple private-public partnerships. The Engineering Higher Education Alliance Partnership has attracted millions of dollars in funding support from six major corporations, along with engineering equipment and expertise.
This partnership is transforming engineering education in Vietnam and producing work-ready graduates for the country’s booming high-tech sector.
We have developed a similar partnership to boost the capacity of social workers in Vietnam, thanks to San Jose State University. We recently announced major new funding for higher education partnerships. And the President and I had a chance to discuss this before I came here.
And, we continue to expand our nationwide alumni network and improve English language teaching capabilities. Vietnam ranks first in Southeast Asia in the number of international students studying in the United States. I encourage all of you to consider study opportunities in the United States and visit our American Center here in Hanoi to find out more.
I’m proud of our close collaboration on a wide range of environment and health issues. The truth is, if we don’t protect the environment and make headway on health issues, not much else will matter.
Earlier this week, as part of President Obama’s commitment in this area, I launched a program to help reduce the demand for illegal trafficking of rhino horn. We are working with Vietnamese law enforcement agencies to combat all types of trafficking.
We have partnered with local authorities, businesses, and NGOs to build an alliance to preserve Vinh Ha Long, a UNESCO world heritage site threatened by pollution.
Knowing the threat that climate change poses to all of us, we’re working with Vietnam’s Ministry for Planning and Investment and UNDP to partner with Vietnam as it implements its Green Growth Strategy and sets the country on a path of lower emissions development. The Lower Mekong Initiative – of which I know a lot of work has been done at VNU — also gives us an opportunity to deepen collaboration on a wide range of issues, including water.
In the field of health, the United States has invested heavily in Vietnam. We have spent nearly $700 million to combat HIV/AIDS through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.
Vietnam has also become a focus country for the President’s Global Health Security Agenda and the CDC works closely with Vietnam to help prevent the spread of ebola. After Vietnam successfully weathered SARS and avian flu, we are working with you prepare for the epidemics that will come.
The Minister of Health and I inaugurated an Operations Center to monitor infectious disease outbreaks that links Hanoi to four other regions within the country.
The United States has a long record of support for persons with disabilities in terms of health, education and legal protection. This support began in the early 1990s and continues today, thanks to strong support from the U.S. Congress. Helping persons with disabilities is the right thing to do and it also helps all of Vietnam’s people reach their fullest potential.
War legacy issues are an important piece of our relationship. Were it not for leaders like Vermont’s Senator Patrick Leahy—who led a delegation to VNU’s law school right down the road last year—and the long-term engagement of many in and out of government, I don’t believe our relationship with Vietnam would be as strong as it is.
I would like to thank the people of Vietnam for continuing to support our efforts to provide the fullest possible accounting for our MIA/POWs. Teams work tirelessly — Vietnamese and American — to excavate sites and follow leads, and our two nations are sharing expertise that may allow better accounting for Vietnam’s missing. These efforts were and are critical for building trust between our nations.
To date, the United States has spent more than $65 million in dioxin cleanup and $80 million for cleaning up unexploded ordnance. This year we have doubled our annual contributions for cleaning up unexploded ordnance to more than $10 million. We are looking forward to helping Vietnam’s newly established Mine Action Center develop and engage with international donors and NGOs. Just this past week, our Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller visited Quang Tri this week to see our clean-up efforts. She was impressed by our joint work. With local and national leadership, and our support, a Quang Tri substantially free of lingering unexploded ordnance can happen in the next few years.
I would like to say a few words about our defense and security cooperation. It plays an important role in Vietnam’s emergence as a strong, prosperous and independent nation.
We continue to make steady progress in all five agreed priority areas for Defense Cooperation: maritime security, high level dialogues, search and rescue, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and peacekeeping operations. Regular high level visits help both sides understand and grow more comfortable with each other. And, this mutual understanding is turning talk into action.
Last year, we conducted the first search-and-rescue exercise between our two Navies and an urban search-and-rescue exchange between our two Armies.
Later this month, our armed services will work together on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief as part of this year’s Pacific Angel program. In August, our navies will collaborate during Pacific Partnership. Our militaries are working together on providing health services to thousands of Vietnamese, building and restoring medical clinics, schools and orphanages, and working together on disaster relief. These partnerships are great examples of how far we have come – and they show how far we can go.
Vietnam is contributing to UN peacekeeping operations and is looking to expand its role to support peace and security across the globe. We support this goal, and we are providing training, equipment and contributions to Vietnam’s peacekeeping center.
Focused on modernizing its defensive capabilities, Vietnam will likely look to its historic partners. This is understandable. Vietnam should have many friends – especially in a region that is as complex and dynamic as this one. However, the United States has much to offer to enhance the Vietnam’s security in the short, medium, and long-term.
There is much more that our two countries can do together in order to maintain peace, prosperity and independence in Vietnam, in the region and in the world. To do this, both sides will have to take some risks, and look forward to a new future even as we remember and honestly address our history. Although we share a complex history, I believe we also share a very bright future.
Another area where we have made progress and yet still see challenges are in the promotion and protection of human rights. As we’ve stated, the United States wants a strong, prosperous, independent Vietnam that respects the rule of law and human rights.
Our annual human rights dialogue has been fruitful. Vietnam’s National Assembly unanimously voted to ratify the Convention Against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
We have begun to work together at the United Nations – even in the UN Human Rights Council – although our voting records still reflect serious disagreement on some important issues.
Vietnam has released a number of prisoners of conscience and allowed greater space for religious freedom. Vietnam has also modified laws to decriminalize same sex marriage and has supported UN action to benefit LGBT persons worldwide.
The United States and other countries have been open and transparent with Vietnam about our differences on human rights. We believe that our relationship can only reach its fullest potential if there is demonstrable progress on human rights.
We believe that civil and criminal code reform, expansion of individual freedoms—including on the internet, and encouraging an independent judiciary — are critical to Vietnam’s success.
And, we will work with Vietnam to improve public accountability, transparency (including access to information), dialogue with society, and improved delivery of government services.
President Obama and President Sang also mentioned cooperation in areas of culture, tourism and sport. It’s very easy to see why.
Tens of millions of Vietnamese under the age of 35 – your age — view the United States as their country’s closest partner. Through our Facebook sites, our American Centers, President Obama’s YSEALI program (of which I hope you all become members), we connect to tens of thousands of young Vietnamese every day.
The United States respects Vietnam’s people, its history, its traditional values and its culture. We have set up partnerships between Vietnam and cultural institutions such as the Kennedy Center and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
We fund numerous two-way exchange programs like Fulbright to build people-to-people ties. We reopened a program permitting adoptions from Vietnam, starting with children over five, siblings and children with special needs. And, an increasingly influential Vietnamese diaspora will play an ever more important role in strengthening linkages between the two countries.
So, as we look at the next chapter, where do we go from here?
One of my mentors is Ambassador Pete Peterson, the first U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam after normalization. He told me in January that “nothing is impossible.” Indeed, if we learned anything over the past 20 years, it’s that nothing is impossible.
Let’s let that be our motto for the next 20 years and beyond. Can Vietnam conclude negotiations to make the Trans-Pacific Partnership a reality?
Nothing is impossible.
Can we work with Vietnam to develop a space program to boost telecommunication capabilities, monitor the impacts of climate change, increase maritime domain awareness and assist with disaster prediction?
Nothing is impossible.
Can we conclude negotiations for a New Embassy Compound during this 20th anniversary year so that we have an Embassy that reflects the growing importance of our relationship?
Nothing is impossible.
Can we boost our party-to-party ties to build capacity and good governance? [Audience: “Nothing is impossible.”]
Can we see a Vietnam that treats its gay and lesbian citizens equally under the law? [Audience: “Nothing is impossible.”]
Can Vietnam redouble its efforts toward greater transparency and respect for rule of law, which are necessary for advancement in so many areas? [Audience: “Nothing is impossible.”]
Can we collaborate to fight tuberculosis and eliminate malaria in Vietnam? [Audience: “Nothing is impossible.”]
Can Vietnam and the United States take steps that will permit direct flights between our two countries? [Audience: “Nothing is impossible.”]
Can the United States be Vietnam’s #1 investor, as it is in ASEAN as a whole? [Audience: “Nothing is impossible.”]
Can Vietnam reform its visa laws to make it easier to do business in Vietnam? [Audience: “Nothing is impossible.”]
Can we explore together Vietnam’s vulnerability in food security due to climate change, and what this will mean for the region and beyond? [Audience: “Nothing is impossible.”]
Yes, we can, because nothing is impossible. And, none of these things are impossible because they all are in Vietnam’s interest, and we want to be your partner.
Với truyền thống / “con Rồng cháu Tiên”, Việt Nam đã tạo được cho mình / một đôi cánh vững chắc / để bay lên. Chính phủ và nhân dân Hoa Kỳ / sẵn sàng / tiếp thêm sức mạnh / cho VN / bay cao / và bay xa hơn nữa. [Applause]
Thanks again so much to VNU and everyone here today. Thank you very much. I would be pleased to take questions from the audience.